43 min read

Review & Photography by Manny Manson for MPM

My usual short drive into Birmingham is sadly a solo event again. Brother Waldorf is visiting family so can’t make this event, which is a shame, I’m sure it’s one he would have enjoyed after a run of ‘shouty’ bands.

With the star of U.S. TV show Gossip Girl and little Cindy Lou Who from ‘The Grinch that Stole Christmas, Momsen Momson has brought her rock n roll band, The Pretty Reckless to the U.K. shores for a run of sold out dates.

Tonight, I’m heading for the O2 Academy, right in the heart of Birmingham, the M6 and A38 will no doubt be presenting their usual challenges. Hopefully there won’t be any night time closures on this trip.

I’m hopefully getting to meet an old friend at the show, another reason for heading into the West Midlands a little earlier than I would normally.

Getting inside is straight forward for a change. The venue is just starting to fill up so it’s a big empty box. The stage is bathed in the now de rigour magenta light. This seems to be a post lockdown favourite of venues. The Pretty Reckless back drop is hanging above the drum kit of Jamie Perkins. I go and check the merch stand while its relatively quiet.

First up tonight we have THE CRUEL KNIVES, a band I have struggled to find anything about apart from they are the ‘Phoenix’ to the ‘Heavens Basement’ Ashes. This band formed in 2008 and went on to release three albums, only to finally split up in 2017. From here Sid Glover (guitars) and Rob Ellershaw (bass) went on to form TCK’s. The band enlisted the help of Tom Harris on vocals and Al Junior on drums to complete the four piece.

A worthy note is that former front man Aaron Buchanan who had left previously in 2015 went on to form the successful ‘Aaron Buchanan and the Cult Classics’.

The Cruel Knives released their first single ‘The World We Were Sold’ later in 2017. They have since released a couple of E.P.’s, Side One, a 5track CD in 2017, it included the first single as its opening track, and a second E.P. in 2019, excitingly entitled, wait for it, ‘Side Two’, this included 7 tracks. In August 30th 2019 they released a long player, a 12track limited edition vinyl spinner, once again geniusly, entitled ‘Side One and Side Two’. Yes, you’ve guessed it, it’s a unification of the two previous E.P.’s.

The Cruel Knives hit the stage on time, 8pm. Over the house PA, the theme tune to the Shining is sounding out, an odd choice it has to be said but it works and has the crowd cheering. Bathed in red light, it’s hard to make out singer Tom Harris as they get underway with ‘Black Eyed Friday’ from Side Two. With the heavy distorted guitar and pummelling the kit is getting from Sid Glover and Al Junior they crush the opening song.

“Birmingham, how the fuck are we tonight” screams Harris as the blinders go into overtime and then we have heavy ‘fog’ and a solid green then red lighting, as ‘Life That We Made’ cries out, it’s such as shame as the lads are putting on a great shadow puppet, theatrical show for the fans. No front light is never fun to photograph, nor to watch. Glover is smashing the guitar riffs, as Ellershall is lost in the smokie darkness.

‘Overdose’ follows on with a great guitar riff that’s repeated whilst the drums and bass combine like a huge industrial machine and smash you square in the jaw. The lighting has gone green again as the licks fly from Glover on the rise, as Junior slams out a steady beat in timekeeping for his band mate.

The screaming breakdown and pulsing strobe lighting are migraine inducing, nice! Harris has now removed his suit jacket as he gets down to business. ‘Hollow People’, again from Side Two is next and gets a great response from the crowd.

The nasty guitar sounds familiar, it’s got a Rival Sons edge to it. The fuzz filled guitar is mean as this one slams into the back wall. Its Teutonic bass line is rumbling under foot as Harris croons over the top. He’s whipping the mic lead around as he does so, great theatre. The crowd are bouncing in time to the beat, heads nodding in agreement. Glovers guitar is fire. His showmanship coming thorough even though you can’t see him when he moves away from the stage edge.

‘Shotgun to The Head’ follows after Harris has thanked the Pretty reckless for having them on the tour. Another guitar driven assault crashes out with its staccato start and thundering drum a compliment. The drums and bass are locked in as one, hard and brutal, crushing in fact.

The repeated tempo changes catche you out before it all kicks off again. The sinister fair ground horror riff sounds at odds to the tune but it’s merely an entrance for a solo of gargantuan proportions for Mr Glover, he certainly knows how to entertain, his licks are melodic and tasty, as he brings it down with a sustained lick, a false stop, the theme of the night, and then a crash and sung note the song finally finishes.

‘Crawl” is the final song of the too short a set. The guitar intro again sounds familiar as Harris introduces the song as the last one of the night. The crowd are lit up brightly from the blinding back light. The stage is full of smoke which is billowing over the front rows of the crowd.

The fast guitar riffs propel this song along, the flanging effect adds to the solo as Harris delivers the fast lyric of this hard-hitting number. The final part of the song is a dirty ascending riff which speeds up much to the delight of the crowd. The cymbals crash as the distortion goes into over-time with teased finishes until a final guitar scream and thud from the drums complete the set. The House PA comes on as the band say goodbye and begin the strip down of their kit. We have a 30minute window to get things ready for the headliners

The Pretty Reckless, are an American band formed in NYC in 2009. They released their debut album in 2010 entitled ‘Light Me Up’. The notable single from this album being ‘Make Me Wanna Die, which features in the current tour’s set. An E.P. was released in 2012 called ‘Hit Me Like A Man’. They released their sophomore album in 2014.

Going to Hell’. It included the chart-topping singles, ‘Heaven Knows’ and ‘Messed Up World’. Again the latter is a staple in the current set. 2016 saw the release of the third album ‘Who You Selling For’. Again, it featured the bands fourth No1 with ‘Take Me Down’, yes, you’ve guessed it, it’s in the set as well. With the release of ‘Death by Rock and Roll’ in 2021 the band achieved its 5th No1 in the US charts. The Pretty Reckless are the first female fronted band to have achieved 5 No1 singles. Oh, and the song, ‘Death By’ is the current set opener.

The band have opened for the likes of Guns and Roses and Evanescence during their career. On May 17th, 2017, they opened for Soundgarden at the Fox theatre in Detroit, this was to be Chris Cornell’s last ever performance as he took his own life just hours later.

The band played Audioslave’s ‘Like A Stone’ as a tribute just three days later at a radio stations annual B-B-Q.

This had a profound effect on Momsen, and combined with the loss of the bands long-time Producer, Kato Khandwala, who passed from injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident, depression and its associated demons followed, it’s a well-documented period of Momsen’s life so there is no need to mention it here.

The fourth album and the title of this the supporting tour, ‘Death by Rock and Roll’ Had help from drummer, Matt Cameron, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. The album named after a mantra often spoken by Kato, is without doubt a masterful piece of work.

Released in 2021 it became my favourite album of the year. It starts with the title track, a cacophony of classic The Pretty Reckless and finishes with a love song to KATO called ‘Harley Darling’, a rootsy ballad that shows how much of a friend he was to Momsen and the band.

Prior to its release it was preceded by a couple of singles, the title track in the June 2020 as a tribute to the band’s former producer and ‘So It Went’ which was released in January 2021. `this included guitar from Audioslave’s guitarist Tom Morello. The latest album ‘Otherworld’s’ is scheduled for release on November 4th, is an acoustic reworking of several songs from the fourth album, mixed in with covers of Soundgarden, Chris Cornel, Elvis Costello and David Bowie.

The lights drop and the cheers go up from the 3900 fans gathered here tonight. The band are in position as the opening track strikes up, ‘Death by Rock and Roll’, released in 2021 it has stamped its mark and put The Pretty Reckless firmly on the ‘must see live’ list. Prowling the stage, Momsen is way more confident that the last time I photographed her, back then she hid behind the microphone and her long hair, tonight she’s on fire. Ben Philips has his guitar howling as Momsen’s vocal slams out, on the verge of fray she controls it well as she dances around the stage in her stacked calf high boots, a biker jacket over an orange slip dress, its sleeves on the long side.

Waltzing back on forth, making full use of the risers on either side of the stage. ‘Since You’re Gone’ from the debut album follows, but not before asking how “Burminam, how you doing? thanks for coming out”. This rocking number has the band settling in as they destroy the venue, the fans, many of which are Momsen clones, are rocking hard. The fists, horns and videophones are all up in the air as Momsen dances with Mark Damon on the bass first before leaning into Ben Philips as he digs deep and rips out a sonic delight.

‘Only Love Can Save Me Now’ continues the new songs. Momsen is relaxed as she prowls the stage. With her biker jacket now removed, it’s nice to see she is wearing a Soundgarden bracelet, a fitting tribute to Chris Cornell, visible when she finally she grips the mic stand with one hand and casually sings the dying words, her head drops as the crowd scream, it’s a false ending as the band quickly pick it back and rip the final licks out to the end. We now have to exit the pit, our passes are sadly collected by the security on the orders of the tour manager, not one to added to the collection.

‘And So, It Went’ chimes up as we try to sort out the confusion that now sets in. Ben Philips dirty guitar is screaming in the background, full of distorted fuzz. We are now escorted outside as the crowd start singing back to the band. While we wait the cheers are going up as ‘Make Me Wanna Die’ follows, we are now being questioned about photo passes, the ones we had to return.

Momsen meanwhile has the crowd screaming as the guitar strikes up. Apparently, an incident inside has prevented them sorting the issue out. The crowd are singing “your eyes, your eyes” as we get the ok to stand by the doors so we can at least hear, better, what’s going on, some of us are reviewing and can’t get back in to watch the show.

The song slows and we the cheers go up as we’re told we can put our bags back in the cloakroom I think the cheers are for the band not us. The drums and guitar are hammering out hard as this one is brought to an end. I get a pint of Pepsi Max as I get settled leaning against the bar, just in time for the clapping to start as 2010’s ‘Miss Nothing’ rattles the rafters.

The venue is full and I’m tight against the bar as more Momsen clones squeeze past. Looking over the top of the crowd I struggle to see the band as there are so many phones and hands in the air, oh how I wish I’d worn my walk tall shoes tonight. Thundering drums shatters the stillness. The guitar swirls around as does Momsen’s hair as this bouncing romp thumps out.

The screams and cheers herald the end of this one. The stage lights dim “Burminam, I don’t know about you guys but I love Halloween, we’ll play a couple of Spooky one’s for you” A narrated voice over talks about Peter and the Wolf. The drums kick in hard and fast as ‘Sweet Things’ is the first of these.

The drums are on fire as Perkins kills them. A ride bell chimes out as the tempo changes. The dirty guitar is rip-sawing along as a more spoken vocal from Philips allows Momsen to seduce the mic stand. The lighting is stunning blue spots are searching the venue as, Philips is plying the fans with scorching lick after dirty riff.

The blinders try and induce a fit or two as Momsen screams her vocal, her voice fraying with delight. Facing the drums, she leans back towards the crowd as the song is finally brought down, her hands dancing in the air. “where’s all the beautiful women” shouts Momsen, “this one goes out to you guys” a brief pause, “in fact this one goes out to anyone who’s been fucked over by a man”, as she turns and slinks towards the drumkit.

A tape intro ‘Broomsticks’ plays out before the familiar guitar sound of ‘Witches Burn’ strikes up. Momsen is pacing back and forth as she sings this one, a big smile on her face as she stands on the riser , speaking to the crowd. She’s enjoying play acting to this one, all demure and innocent as she continues. She dances around as the guitar takes centre stage and howls like a demented banshee; on a leash such is Philips control.

Momsen gets on a riser and sweeps her microphone back and forth, the crowd cheer in response. Philips guitar at one-point sounds like its laughing along.

Momsen has now grabbed a witch’s hat which she tries to wear, but it falls off, she does manage it briefly, as she crouches down only to stand up and ty to fling it into the crowd which it doesn’t. “Alright you guy’s, I have a question” says Momsen, grasping the mic, a black telecaster hanging from her neck. “ who’s drinking tonight” the crowd cheer.

I’ve lost count of the number of petite ladies I’ve seen wandering around with 2pint mugs of lager in their hands. ‘My Medicine’ is up next, it goes out to everyone in tonight says Momsen, it’s another classic from the debut album’ light me up ‘.

It has the crowd singing from the start, Momsen screams “let me hear you” as the crowd ramp it up another couple of levels. This walking drum beat throbs as the song has the crowd singing at full volume. “I know you can do better than that” shouts Momsen “a little louder” as the song is finally wrapped up and the cheers again ring out. This is a very partisan crowd tonight, joining in and hanging on every word, great stuff.

We go back to the new album for the next one, ‘My Bones’. This one crashes out after a quick drumstick count in. the lighting is again pulsing along as Momsen is back on the mic, her guitar put away for now. The heavy riffing digs in deep, you can feel it in your chest and I’m stood at the bar. The sound has been great tonight, nice and clear, good job on the sound board.

The nasty number finishes and the crowd cheer only for the band to start up almost immediately, Momsen is prowling around in circles as she sings on, her hair is over her face as she does so. The tribal like drums carry the song forward as it breaks down into the finish proper, yes, another false finish.

We like them it’s catching everyone out. “Burminam” screams Momsen, “are you hot?” “I’m hot are you, I know you’re sexy but are you hot?” I’m hot my palms have started sweating again. Momsen now asks for the crowd’s participation as she introduces ‘Going to Hell’ taped “forgive me father for I have sinned” out repeatedly over the PA, as, bathed in red light the band get ready for this pacey number from this 2014album. The crowd join in with the “I’m Going to Hell’s”.

Momsen spins around as the guitar jangles before asking for forgiveness. The lights pulse red as Momsen screams “Burminam, I wanna see every one of your hands in the air, in the sides, in the back, GET THEM UP!”. She ducks and dives as she gets the crowd to scream back “I’m going to HEELLLLLLLLL”, the usual “ you can do better than that” follows, “louder”, “Scream it!”, she’s smiling as she continues with the song, fast feet and sticks wind the song up with a sexy little riff or 2from Philips which ends bordering of feedback. His Gibson sounds fire tonight, just how it should be.

“Alright Burminam if you knew that one, we’ll need help with the next one, be a part of the band tonight”. The guitar riff flies out to ‘Heaven Knows’ the delay on it gives it an almost Pink Floyd vibe. The walking thud, slam from the kit has the band clapping along, as Momsen is back on the riser conducting the crowd in a singalong. This one from 2014 is a great vehicle for Philips to cut lose on that delicious sounding black Gibson ES. Up front he is string bending, his eyes closed, mouthing the notes as his fingers dance along the neck of his guitar like little pink maggots.

Riffing out he joins up with Mark Damon, whose bass rumbles along, Philips has leapt up on a riser and is conducting before squeezing out more sonic delights, a repetitive picking sounds out as he slowly walks across the front of the stage. Leaning into Damon he picks out a note not on the fingerboard, stunning stuff, as this Noel Fielding look alike riffs it out to the end and the lights go out.

“What about the Cruel Knives?” shouts Momsen, “we’ve known these guys for years, we love them” “but not as much as we love you guys” a good save there Momsen, “you guys are the best”, “thank you for coming out tonight” she continues, “ this is our last song tonight”, before she starts, she thanks everyone for coming out, thanks them for allowing her to play rock n rock every night.

“Sing it if you know it” this is ‘Take Me Down’ the only song to feature from 2016’s Who you Selling for. Momsen is now sporting a white telecaster guitar as she laments the intro to this banger. The crowd around me are singing along already the “take me downs” are loud! The hands and phones are up the lights are swirling around as Momsen sings, her hands above her head, before she picks up the guitar and joins in the riffing as Philips solo’s over the top. This is a great tune, to be fair there hasn’t been a duff one all night, a well-chosen set list. It hasn’t suffered that middle muddle where some bands play less popular tunes and the set seems to lose its way a little.

The guys riff out as the drums thud and crash, the guitar raises in pitch as the song finishes, and Momsen is yet again, thanking the crowd. A final crash and the band are off stage. The clapping and cheering for one more song starts up in earnest, some folk are pushing their way to the doors. You never leave until the house lights coming, first rule of gig camp!

A single snare slams tells everyone that the band are back. Someone shouts out “rock n roll” as the clapping goes through the roof. “Alright Burminam, we’ve got one more for you as we’re so awesome”, “like I said before it’s a ‘Fucked World” from 2014’s Going to Hell album. Cymbal Crashes pour from the kit, a steady guitar riff follows and then dies out. The drums kick in hard as a tsunami of a drum solo ensues. The feet are going ten to the dozen, as we get random slams around the top floor of the kit.

Guitarist, Philips wipes his face and then throws his towel at Perkins on the kit, this then gets thrown into the crowd, 2 minutes in and the feet haven’t stopped, what stamina, as he now gives us tuning bends on his toms as he slams into them. The feet have finally stopped as a taped voice shouts out about “if you want me to stop, you’ll have to kill me”.

This has spurred the drum solo on faster and harder to finish on a china cymbal. Bathed in orange light the crowd cheer and clap, before the drums kick in again along with the bass and guitars. Momsen is back on bouncing about with a tambourine as she carries on the vocal onslaught and brings the night to an end amidst a flurry of screaming guitar and thundering bass.

“Burminam, thank you so much” “Happy Halloween” “we’ll see you next time”. Before the band finally leave the stage, they pose for the now ritual of a picture of the band and crowd. With final waves and thanks’, the band call it and leave the stage.

Wow what a set. What a night.

It’s a shame that the Cruel Knives had no front lighting, apart from the ambient between songs, on their short set. They delivered a memorable 30minutes of spaced out distorted rock and roll and are a band that should be destined for bigger things. That dirty guitar was stunning.

The Pretty Reckless have delivered on all counts, a next level performance. What a difference a lock down makes. The difference in the band, and specifically Momsen, from the last time I saw them is like chalk and cheese. Tonight, she put herself up, along-side Lzzy Hale undoubtedly thee front woman of the moment, Momsen and the Pretty Reckless now sit beside her, easily! Bravo!

If you get the chance to see them then you’ll be doing yourself a favour, they’re a stunning band full stop!

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